Last minute getaways

Last minute getaways
The Diocletian Palace in Dubrovnik, Croatia — famous for its use in Game of Throne. Image: Nico Trinkhaus under a CC licence

Summer is in full swing and it might seem as though everyone has their getaway planned. If you’re still looking for a New East adventure perfect for the end of summer, The Calvert Journal is here to guide you with a selection of spectacular destinations to suit every taste, whether you’re a party animal or a Game of Thrones addict

18 August 2017

For the foodie
Tbilisi, Georgia

An array of Georgian delicacies. Image: Giorgi Balakhadze under a CC licence

One word: khachapuri. This traditional Georgian cheese-stuffed bread will have you weak at the knees, particularly if you opt for the Ajarian variety: a boat-shaped khachapuri topped with butter and a fried egg. Swoon. Beyond cheese-based delights, Georgian cuisine is bursting with flavour, not least because of the distinctive herbs used (think dried marigold) and abundance of garlic, pomegranate and walnuts. Top dishes to try include khinkali (dumplings stuffed with spiced meat), lobio bean stew, and sausage-shaped grape juice churchkheli sweets. Russian poet Alexander Pushkin once commented that “every Georgian dish is a poem” — as with all good poetry, these poems are best paired with a delicious local wine.

For the party animal
Belgrade, Serbia

Revellers on the Lasta club boat on the Sava River. Image: Lasta - Gradski splav/Facebook

If you love to party but the dizzy heights of Bulgaria’s Sunny Beach aren’t quite for you, consider Belgrade, where nightlife meets creative spirit. To discover the vibrant arts scene, head to Savamala, an up-and-coming riverfront neighbourhood. Here bars and clubs intermingle with galleries and creative spaces, housed in warehouses and mansions that until recently were derelict remnants of the area’s former affluence. While you’re in the area, it would be remiss not to pay a visit to KC Grad, Belgrade’s first independent cultural hub and pioneer of Savamala’s regeneration.

Odessa, Ukraine

For those looking for oceanside partying in particular, the Ukrainian Black Sea city of Odessa offers ample opportunity. Lively Arcadia Beach is home to clubs and bars that have become legendary throughout eastern Europe as some of the best summer nightlife spots in the region. House and techno fans should head to Ibiza (the club, not the island), while anyone in search of pop and toga-clad bar staff might consider Grecian-style beach club Itaka.

For those who want to slow down
Lake Ohrid, Macedonia/Albania

Image: Austin Fast under a CC licence

Straddling the border between Macedonia and Albania, Lake Ohrid is the perfect place to unwind and take some time out. Base yourself in the gorgeous Macedonian town of Ohrid, where you’ll find stunning churches, lakeside cafés and cobbled streets lined with colourful shops selling locally-crafted jewellery and icons, topped by the hillside remains of a medieval castle. The oldest lake in Europe, Lake Ohrid has long been a UNESCO world heritage site and is bursting with history and spiritual significance. Take a trip down to the monastery of St Naum near the Albanian border, later cooling off at the nearby Ljubaništa beach — among the best on the lake. Top tip: stay a little later here for a sunset you’ll never forget.

For the Soviet history buff
Riga, Latvia

When thinking of where to go to indulge your interest in Soviet history, Moscow is probably the first place to come to mind. But wouldn’t it be great to combine monuments and museums with a little seaside relaxation? It is summer, after all. With this in mind, try Riga for a de-stressing historical sojourn. In this friendly, chilled city you can visit the iconic Academy of Sciences — a cousin to similar Stalin-era skyscrapers, nicknamed Stalin’s birthday cake — the KGB building, the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, the awe-inspiring Soviet Victory Monument and the fascinating Riga Aviation Museum, then escape to the sea with just a short train ride. Just half an hour away from Riga is the charming seaside town of Jūrmala. Enjoy the 33km of white sand beach, or enjoy the Soviet-era sanatoriums that stand amid towering pine trees as a warmer alternative to the admittedly often chilly waters of the Baltic Sea. Enjoy the town’s fairytale feel with a stroll among the charming Art Nouveau seaside villas.

For the water-sports fanatic
Croatian coastline

Boasting nearly 1,800km of mainland coastline alone (not including its more than 1,000 islands!), it may not be entirely surprising that Croatia offers much for watersports fans to enjoy. Try sea kayaking around the Elaphiti Islands, a small archipelago northwest of the stunning city of Dubrovnik, or windsurfing from the village of Premantura (Istria), Viganj on the Pelješac peninsula or the resort town of Bol on the island of Brač. Those who prefer to venture underwater might choose a scuba diving trip to the Blue Grotto on the island of Biševo or the Baron Gautsch wreck near Rovinj. Whatever your sport, the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic will not disappoint.

For the art anthusiast
Ljubljana, Slovenia

With its charming cobbled streets and small-town feel, it may come as some surprise that the Slovenian capital is an art treasure trove. Top picks are the Museum of Modern Art — attached to the Museum of Contemporary Art in the MG+MSUM complex — and International Centre of Graphic Arts, while the Šiška Cultural Quarter is home to various art groups and organisations devoted to contemporary and avant-garde arts, including a centre for urban culture that hosts indie, rock and punk gigs. For something a little out of the ordinary, head to the alternative cultural community of Metelkova — Ljubljana’s answer to Copenhagen’s Freetown Christiania. Here you’ll find a number of bars and galleries, along with some vibrant graffiti. Lined with chilled out bars, the banks of the Ljubljanica river are the perfect place to wile away a summer evening.

For the literature lover
St Petersburg, Russia

The statue to Peter the Great in St Petersburg, the inspiration for Pushkin’s The Bronze Horseman. Image: Vinci71 under a CC licence

Visiting St Petersburg is something of a pilgrimage for literature buffs, with avid readers flocking to the city to soak up the atmosphere that served as inspiration for so much Russian writing. What’s more, Russia’s northern capital is a delightful summer spot, with pleasant weather and the chance to experience the legendary white nights. A must-see — although it may trigger painful memories for any students of Russian literature — is the statue of Peter the Great on Decembrists’ Square, immortalised in Alexander Pushkin’s epic poem The Bronze Horseman. To make the most of the summer weather, enjoy a stroll at Tsarskoye Selo, where you can visit the lyceum where Pushkin studied and his poetic talent revealed itself, or perhaps trace the footsteps of his character Eugene Onegin, who walked through the Summer Garden with his French tutor. Be sure to make time for a walk on Rubinstein Street, where you’ll not only find a wide array of restaurants but will also be following the example of the many literary greats who crossed paths here. The most notable building on Rubinstein Street is Tolstoy House, which belonged to a distant relative of Leo Tolstoy and was home to Woland (the Devil himself) in Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. Come evening, wile away the hours on the charming terrace at Skotny Dvor, or, if you can keep your eyes open that long, settle down on the riverbank to watch the bridges open. If rain clouds gather during your time in St Petersburg, you can spend some time in the city’s plentiful literary museums, such as the Dostoevsky Memorial Museum or the Nabokov Museum.

For the shopaholic
Budapest, Hungary

The Budapest Central Market Hall. Image: Blake Lennon under a CC licence

Budapest is full of unique shops and markets, with something to satisfy the tastes of even the most discerning fashionista or souvenir-hunter. Once you’ve checked out Váci Street, the main pedestrian zone and perhaps the most famous shopping street in the Hungarian capital, there is still a whole world of retail therapy to discover. Whether you’re self-catering or simply want to get a sense of local produce, head to Central Market Hall to get your fill of colourful fruits, vegetables and spices, perhaps picking up a bottle of Tokaji wine while you’re there. Those looking for stylish mementos should take a walk down Király Street, which is buzzing with boutiques showcasing the best of local contemporary design, while Falk Miksa Street which is packed with antique shops and galleries. If haggling is your game, try your hand at Ecseri Flea Market — a veritable treasure trove boasting everything from antique jewellery to Soviet memorabilia. Bookworms will love browsing the many secondhand bookshops on Múzeum körút, or settling down for a coffee at Massolit Books and Cafe. Come the evening, the fun doesn’t have to stop — combine drinking and shopping at Kék Ló Pub, a fashion pub specialising in dresses and accessories. To cool down after time spent pounding the pavements armed with prized purchases, chill out at Csillaghegyi — the oldest open-air bath complex in Budapest.

For those who want to get closer to nature
Burabay National Park, Kazakhstan

The «Sphinx Rock» in Burabay. Image: Aleksandr Karpenko under a CC licence

Contrary to popular perception, Kazakhstan’s scenery offers more than just steppe. Often described as the «Pearl of Kazakhstan», Burabay National Park is a vibrant landscape of pine forests, lakes, rich flora and fauna and intriguing rock formations. What’s more, it’s fairly easily accessible from Astana. Take to the water in a rowing boat on Lake Burabay from Goluboy Zaliv to reach Zhumbaktas Rock — birthplace of several Kazakh legends — or, if you’re feeling in good shape, you can brave the climb to the region’s highest peak at Mt Kokshetau (it’s recommended to go with a guide). A rather more gentle climb that still offers beautiful vistas of both Lake Burabay and its neighbour Lake Bolshoe Chebachie is the walk to the summit of Mt Bolektau. Come to Burabay not just to stand in awe of nature, but to let it work its mysterious magic on you — the park is a popular place for medicinal tourism, owing to the supposedly healing qualities of its pine and birch trees.

For the ruin porn afficionado

While we might not unreservedly promote tourism based entirely on ogling post-communist ruins — claims of exploitation are not unfounded — the allure of so-called “ruin porn” is acute and enduring. Whether a noble occupation or not, lusting after ruin porn can lead you to some fascinating places. The partially-recognised state of Abkhazia is a draw for summertime ruin-seekers, not least because of its wondrous sub-tropical climate and position on the stunning Black Sea coast. Although more than 20 years have passed since the Georgian–Abkhaz war officially ended, the conflict has left deep scars on the architectural landscape, which has taken on a new kind of surreal beauty. Take Gagra: a hugely popular health resort and seaside paradise in Imperial Russia and the Soviet era, where the grandeur of Tsarist-era sanatoriums and hotels slowly fades as nature takes over, and once-busy cable cars hang lifeless over their former routes. A poignant monument to war in its dereliction, the former parliament building in the capital, Sukhumi, stands abandoned, while the ruins of Stalin’s summer house stand in eery contrast to the shimmering waters of Lake Ritsa.

For the Game of Thrones-obsessed
Dubrovnik and Split, Croatia

Dubrovnik — aka, King’s Landing. Image: Ivan Ivankovic under a CC licence

Winter may not be coming just yet, but that’s just as well — the end of summer is the perfect time to visit the Game of Thrones filming locations in Croatia. From season two of Game of Thrones, the southern city of Dubrovnik has served as the filming site for King’s Landing. Along with beautiful St Dominika Street, our top picks for any GoT fan in Dubrovnik are the spectacular Bokar fortress — a medieval circular fort on the city walls that doubles as King’s Landing — and Lovrijenac fortress, aka the Red Keep. The stunningly beautiful Lokrum island (known to fans as Qarth) is worth a visit whether you’re a GoT fan or not. Dubrovnik has been the backdrop to a number of international hit films and series in recent years, including Robin Hood: Origins and the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VIII, so hopefully there will be enough to keep film fans of all tastes amused. Heading up to Split, Diocletian’s Palace plays a key role in the series. Here you can visit the very throne room where Daenerys trained dragons, while the nearby Klis fortress provides the exterior shot location for the city of Meereen. Other GoT locations to visit include the stunning towns of Trogir and Šibenik. You can go it alone or book a place on a themed tour, the choice is yours.

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